As I have had a good friend in town I have had lots of excuses to be a tourist and party a little bit more than usual! Also the reason for my absence from the blogosphere.
Last Friday we had been tipped off by our musician friend Tony that there would be a good night down at the Palacio de la Rumba, and he wasn’t wrong. After the usual fraught bedtime theatre of 3 children under 7, we managed to escape down the Malecon and after asking a couple of people we found the Palacio nestled in a small square in Central Havana. We all paid 10 cucs entry, which although I am sure the locals weren’t paying, I really didn’t care and in my mind it was worth every centavo!
The venue was a little like an old style music hall with a stage, a dance floor and chairs and tables down the middle and some on raised platforms. There was a bar running down one wall at the back of the room and a dickie bow tied waiter hovering. Needless to say there weren’t many white faces in there but this didn’t seem to matter to anybody least of all us. I did feel a little honoured to be there. It was African Cuban music about as authentic as you could hope to find it, and although there were people dancing when we arrived there was a serious air of contemplation and appreciation. The stage was full, around 12 people were playing, drumming and singing in a well practised, effortless way.
We got a bottle of rum and found ourselves a table. The haunting soulful singing and distinctive rhythms soon got us in the mood, in fact all 3 of us were grinning like loons who had just stumbled upon a great party. At one stage early on a Babalu (or Babulau) appeared behind us with his shell necklace and long beard he looked the epitome of Santeria wisdom. A lot of the men were strikingly dressed in white with white flat caps setting off their dark complexions.
Early on there seemed to be some tacit rules about who was up on the dance floor and what was going on and I was happy just to sit there and lap it all up. Couples would get up and dance as though they were conversing. Both men and women had some kind of scarf which they would use to exaggerate their movements. After a while the crowd that had collected on the right hand side would move across and all start dancing. At one stage there was even a conga that filed all the way through the club, a million times cooler than one of those awful things done at drunken office parties and weddings.
The club was no smoking and people were not drinking excessively it was all about the music and the dancing. At one stage a huge birthday cake appeared to celebrate the anniversary of one of the groups and I vaguely remember allowing myself to be lifted up onto the stage to join the celebrations. I felt a bit like a gatecrasher but by the end of the night we were up there with the best of them shaking our booty to the rumba until closing time. We bumped into some Belgian friends who had been in Havana to organise a dance event with the local people and through them I got the phone number of a dance teacher who came with strong recommendations. She is a rather scary-looking Amazonian woman, helped by the 3 inch platforms she was wearing. I am sure she will whip me into rumba shape in no time!
Suddenly at 1.30 we found ourselves in the square outside the club realising that it was all over and we had certainly stayed the course. In fact I was rather glad that it finished, as otherwise I am not sure when we would have got home! Our car was parked right outside, as is the luxury of no car Cuba, and we were contentedly whisked home through the empty streets down to suburban Flores and a last drink in front of the sea to discuss the fun we had had on our first official night out dancing!!! Viva la rumba!
Next stop quiet and sleepy Cienfuegos, the cleanest town in Cuba!
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